Revanche (15)

It is not immediately clear if this Austrian film is a character study or a psychological thriller, for it has strong elements of both.

Nor is it absolutely obvious where the plot is going, because the writer-director Götz Spielmann has managed the remarkable trick of furnishing his characters with a life of their own. From its ominous title and the early scenes set in a drab Vienna brothel, it looks to be something very dark, an impression confirmed when Alex (Johannes Krisch) and his prostitute girlfriend Tamara (Irina Potapenko) are involved in a calamitous bank job in a small town. The scene switches to another couple, Susanne (Ursula Strauss) and her policeman husband Robert (Andreas Lust), whose bourgeois comfort hides a gnawing sadness: they want to have children, but can't. By a coincidence that never feels forced, Alex encounters this couple while he's lying low at his grandfather's remote farmhouse, chopping firewood with scary obsessiveness. Our complicity is significant, because it allows us to detect the subtle misapprehensions that are binding these people together. Yet Spielmann handles the story with such tact and truthfulness that nothing in it feels predictable, and he also draws a fabulous cameo from Hannes Thanheiser as Alex's stoical grandfather, mourning his late wife, feeding his cows and playing, beautifully, his wheezing old accordion. Revanche was in the running last year for the Academy's Best Foreign Language film, but that's not the reason you should try and see it. Films as elegantly nuanced and carefully written as this one is just don't come along very often.